Hi. My name is David. I’ve been meditating for 25 years, and I have anxiety.
The low-level, disguisable, hide-it-behind-my-ego anxiety that slowly eats away at well-being. Background radio static in my energy that subtly influences my words and actions.
When my partner verbally affirmed that back to me today, my first split second reaction was shame. This shame spoke from the weakness in my gut: “You shouldn’t have anxiety. Anxiety is for people who haven’t learned how to meditate. If you have anxiety, then something truly is wrong with you. You are not worthy, you are not good enough, you will never be strong enough to handle life….and you call yourself a meditator?”
But my next reaction was relief.
Relief from finally admitting the truth that I’ve had this feeling ever since 1976, when my family moved to Pittsburgh. My happy life as a confident 8-year-old suddenly shifted into insecurity and tension. Through experiences, I came to associate emotional discomfort in others as a threat to my own safety. Compared to what others have experienced as children, I hesitate to call my experiences trauma, but perhaps we all have had trauma to some degree.
So I developed a pattern to keep me safe: keep everyone around me happy and harmonious, and run away from explosive situations as fast as I can. Unfortunately, this taught me to avoid people who were hurting. Fear beat my curiosity to a pulp.
To avoid looking at my emotional discomfort, I immersed myself in the physical discomfort of competitive swimming. I channeled my feeling into musical intensity and scholastic achievement.
By the end of grad school, I had completely avoided exploring the cause of my anxiety. Having made it that far, I thought I was all set.
Fast forward to my late 20’s, when my hidden anxiety had progressed to dizziness and nausea, (perhaps Meniere’s disease). Thankfully, I found meditation and immediately my life started to turn around. The Meniere’s symptoms went away and never returned. I dived deeper into a spiritual path of meditation, and began having exalted experiences in musical performance which continue to form the backbone of my life’s work.
I lived in spiritual community for 25 years, with a great emphasis on Joy. I thought I was doing all the right stuff, but I discovered that I was hiding my anxiety behind my ego.
My greatest delusion
Somehow I had formed the belief that if I lived life correctly, I should be able to avoid the discomfort of shame, anger, sadness, and hurt. “I serve selflessly, I sit serenely for hours at a time! These emotions shouldn’t be here!” So when those feelings came up, I cubby-holed them and dove back into service, music, and meditation. These would always take my mind off of my anxious gut that I wasn’t supposed to have, and probably didn’t have—after all, it was probably just something I ate. 😉
I had found a way of “fixing” myself, so I should be able to do that with others, yes? Ha. What a joke. The only thing that ended up fixed was my mindset.
All things come to an end. The universe told me it was time to separate from my marriage and my spiritual community, and now I find myself alone for the first time in a very very long time. Not the lonely kind of alone, but the really necessary alone with space to think, feel, examine, explore what is really inside of me. I’ve rediscovered my long dormant curiosity, a burgeoning growth mindset, and a source of inner strength I never knew I had.
The gift of dissonance
Early in my musical development I learned how cool and beautiful dissonance could be. How evocative musical tension eventually finds resolution (if only in silence at the end). I thrived in it. I played in New Music Ensembles and explored more dissonances than I ever knew possible.
Along with my spiritual community came an emphasis on harmony, and dissonance was avoided. I put away my avant-garde repertoire and focused on the serene and uplifting. Through that music I feel like I have touched the presence of God. It opened up inner doors to now experience the sacred in more places, music and people than I had ever imagined.
But now, in today’s world, I can no longer avoid facing my grief and deep sadness that have haunted my years.
I had thought that this world was like a Pac-Man game—if you learned how to do it right, you could get through unscathed. Now I’ve learned that this game of life is rigged for us to experience so many joys, and yet so many sorrows.
My friend, dissonance is all around us. I’m learning that I can’t fix it. But like the most exquisite dissonances and resolutions in music, if I sit with it and give it space to tell its story, I can learn and understand its beauty.